When I was in high school, I flirted with wanting to go to the naval academy.

I was big into building model ships. I read about naval history. This was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the U.S. still had the Iowa-class battleships in service as part of meeting President Ronald Reagan’s plan for a 600-ship navy. I loved battleships, and I spent an ungodly amount of time (and money) building models of the USS Missouri, the HMS Hood, and other floating fortresses. I wanted to captain one in real life.

Then, of course, I realized, “Wait, there’s no way a battleship will be in service when I’m old enough to be a captain!” and went to state school instead.

I’ve already written about how Wargaming’s World of Warships is one of my top 10 games of the year, and I gave it a positive review. And while it’s good, it remains a game that too few of you are playing.

Here’s why you should check it out if you like navy ships and big guns.

Challenging shooting

No aim assets. No locking on. World of Warships’ shooting requires thought. You have to take your weapons’ range into account — and since nothing tells you the range of your guns, you have to figure that out yourself. It’s not hard to do, and you can find plenty of guides and videos that other players have made to help you.

Once you have an idea on your naval rifles’ ranges, you must then consider your foes’ speed. You have to lead targets, and hitting a fat battleship is different from trying to blast apart a destroyer, which is faster and smaller than other ships and rides lower on the waves as well.

You also have to think about range — not how your guns can reach a foe, but whether a ship is too close to your main armament. Battleship guns depress only so far, and when a cruiser or destroyer gets too close, they may not be able to fit the smaller ship. You do have secondary guns, but those aren’t as fun as blowing about a destroyer or a cruiser with a massive broadside.

The shooting takes your ammo into account as well. While you do have unlimited ammo, you have different types. Armor-piercing shells aren’t as useful against smaller ships, and they only really do damage when penetrating a big ship’s citadel (the forward superstructure). You’ll want to use AP against battleships and higher-tier cruisers. Destroyers’ AP shells are so silly that you should just stick with high-explosive rounds regardless of targets.

It’s a lot to consider, especially when combat gets fast (well, as fast as it can for massive ships turning around in the ocean). World of Warships’ combat is like a puzzle, and figuring out where the pieces fit is one of the most satisfying aspects of its approach to naval gunnery.

Loving re-creations

She's pretty. And that's about it.

Above: She’s pretty. And that’s about it.

Image Credit: Jason Wilson/GamesBeat

The St. Louis-class cruiser is a piece of crap. It has a lot of main guns, but they’re weak, and its armor stops enemy fire about as well as paper would. But the basic ship is a beaut, especially decked out in her “Great White Fleet” regalia.

Wargaming does its best to re-create the ships and how they operated (though it does make some concessions to gameplay, such as limiting the range of a battleship’s main guns). The designers visit those warships that are still around, such as floating museums like the battleship USS Texas or Russia’s Aurora protected cruiser (like Texas, a relic from before World War I). The Russian ship gets even more attention, since Wargaming’s main studio lies just down the street from the preserved warship.

To bring sunken, stricken vessels to digital life, Wargaming doesn’t just go over images and videos. Its on-staff historians and designers scan the copies of blueprints of these ships whenever possible. When I visited its Emeryville, California, studio earlier this year, the studio was in the process of scanning designs from Germany’s Prinz Eugen, an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser. When you zoom in to look at ships, you see fine details that no other game with naval units has ever captured.

It’s free

In my review, I did note that it’s better to play World of Warships by paying for a 30-day subscription than going free. But you can enjoy it without spending anything. And for someone who plans on just playing a few matches every now and then, playing for free is a good idea.

Wargaming, like just about every other free-to-play publisher around, offers special incentive weekends where you can gain more experience to spend on researching ships. And if you play savvy, either by earning points from mission goals (like snaring/defending control points) or your daily quests or just sinking a lot of enemy ships, you can still climb a tech tree in a reasonable amount of time.

World of Warships isn’t the best game of 2015. It didn’t even make our top 10 list. Yet it remains one of my favorite games to drop into for a few matches, blow up some opposing ships, and admire the handiwork of people who are passionate about the games they make.

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